The first time Sara B. Franklin met storied Knopf editor Judith Jones, she was 26 years old and terrified. It was a cold January morning in 2013, and Franklin had arranged a visit with Jones, a personal hero, at her Upper East Side apartment to discuss collaborating on an oral history of her life and work. In her 54 years at Knopf, Jones had edited such authors as Julia Child, Sylvia Plath, Anne Tyler, and John Updike, helping transform both the literary and culinary landscapes of postwar America in the process.

Franklin, then a doctoral student at NYU’s food studies program, tried to subdue her nerves as she rode the elevator to the top floor of Jones’s building. Jones—who was 88 years old, five feet tall, and slender with a white bob—came to the door with her Havanese pup, Mabon, at her side. As the door opened, Mabon took the sleeve of Franklin’s sweater in his mouth and tore it. Both women erupted into laughter; the ice had been broken.

“I learned a lot about her in that moment,” Franklin says via Zoom from her home in Kingston, N.Y., where she lives with her two children, dog, and a flock of hens. Her expressive face is dusted with freckles and she speaks with the ardor, clarity, and storytelling skills of a seasoned teacher (she’s an instructor at NYU). “It sort of was clear right away to me that we were going to become friends,” she recalls.

Franklin and Jones would spend the next six months meeting at Jones’s apartment, as well as at her summer home in Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom, to conduct six two-hour interviews. The project, supported by the Julia Child Foundation, concluded in the summer of 2013, but the two women maintained a relationship until Jones’s death in 2017 at the age of 93. Their hours of conversation and years of friendship would later inspire Franklin to write The Editor: How Publishing Legend Judith Jones Shaped Culture in America, a meticulously researched and fondly written biography, out from Atria in May.

The seeds for the book were first planted at Jones’s memorial service, where her stepdaughter invited Franklin to peruse Jones’s vast trove of personal papers, which included correspondence, notebooks, photographs, and annotated manuscripts dating back to the 1930s. The materials took up two entire rooms; Franklin spent nearly a year just reading through it all. As a writer, Franklin says, “there was no way I was going to turn away from an archive like that.”

But more than anything, she saw an opportunity to honor her friend and mentor. So she set to work on what would become The Editor. “I think a kind of protective feeling came up about not wanting someone else to have a first shot at telling her story who hadn’t known her,” she says. “I was really concerned that her legacy might get maligned.”

Franklin’s worries were not unfounded. In the annals of publishing history, Jones’s contributions have often been minimized: as Franklin notes in The Editor, not until the late 1990s was it made public that in 1950, Jones (who was then just 27) had rescued The Diary of Anne Frank from a reject pile and convinced Doubleday to publish it. And the recent HBO series Julia, in Franklin’s estimation, “does a real disservice” to both Jones and Julia Child, who closely collaborated on the landmark 1961 cookbook Mastering the Art of French Cooking, by relegating Jones to the role of “sidekick.”

The Editor draws on Jones’s papers, the Knopf archives at UT Austin, Franklin’s oral history, and interviews with such publishing icons as Bob Gottlieb, Kathy Hourigan, and Sonny Mehta. The book was “incredibly hard to sell,” Franklin says, with many publishers dismissing it as too “inside baseball.” But Jones’s importance extended far beyond the Knopf offices—her editorial sensibility influenced an entire generation of writers and thinkers. And as for the culinary world, her impact is impossible to overstate. “We might not have a contemporary landscape of cookbooks without Judith Jones,” Franklin says.

Food has always been Franklin’s foremost passion—and it’s what drew her to Jones in the first place. Growing up, her second-wave feminist mother detested cooking, dismissing it as a time-consuming chore historically assigned to women. “I had sort of been bathed in these waters of cooking as something that you should shunt to the side as much as possible,” she recalls.

But she could never relate: she loved to eat and was fascinated by all things culinary. She used her first paycheck to send away for a copy of Gourmet magazine and taught herself to cook by watching Food Network. As an undergraduate at Tufts, she discovered and devoured Jones’s 2007 memoir, The Tenth Muse: My Life in Food. Jones gave her the blueprint of womanhood she had been looking for, capacious enough to contain passions for both work and food, in which cooking was not gendered drudgery but an act of care, as well as a sensual experience.

After completing her undergraduate studies in 2008, Franklin pursued food-related work in all its forms: as a restaurant critic for an alt-weekly in western Massachusetts, an apprentice on a farm just outside Boston, and a private chef and assistant at a cookbook writers’ retreat hosted by the late food writer Molly O’Neill. She earned her PhD in food studies in 2017, and after completing her work with Jones, edited a 2018 anthology on the renowned Southern chef Edna Lewis, one of Jones’s authors and a significant figure in The Editor. In 2020, she also coauthored a book of recipes from the beloved Phoenicia Diner in the Catskills.

Franklin calls her friendship with Jones “one of the most enduring relationships of my life.” When the two met, Franklin had been feeling “unmoored” by the recent loss of both her parents to cancer, and in Jones she found a much-needed role model. The pair began each visit by cooking lunch together, during which “the recorder was never on—we were just talking about life.”
From Jones, Franklin learned invaluable life lessons: how to achieve longevity in a culture predicated on burnout, how to work hard in a way that nourishes rather than depletes you, how to stick to your vision rather than follow trends, how to make time for daily acts of care, and how to prioritize pleasure, from reading to cooking.

“I feel incredibly grateful for the perspective that I gained from her,” Franklin says, “both in actually knowing her and spending time with her memory and the people who knew and loved her.” In the years since her death, Jones has continued to inform every aspect of Franklin’s life, from her writing to her cooking, her work ethic to her personal ethos: “I feel like in some ways she sits on my shoulder as a kind of constant wise person.”

Franklin saw Jones for the last time in April 2017, a few months before her death. Franklin had recently given birth to twins and shared photos of her children. Both women had previously bonded over their experience with infertility; Jones never had biological children of her own. “It was very powerful to me,” Franklin says, “that our last visit together included that moment of connecting across experiences, across generations—of bringing new life into the world as hers was fading out.”